Gay marriage, forty years ago

Newspaper article: "Denied Marriage License: Homosexuals Plan Court Action," Hartford Courant, September 2, 1971
Hartford Courant, September 2, 1971 (click to view full size)

I just dug this out from research I conducted a few years ago on gay and lesbian organizing in Hartford, Connecticut, in the Gender Equity Collection at Central Connecticut State University’s Elihu Burritt Library.  The Kalos Society-Gay Liberation Front was an early gay organization there, dating from the late 1960s.

My advisor, George Chauncey, writes in his book Why Marriage? about the phenomenon of early gay liberation-era claims by same-sex couples for marriage rights:

From the earliest days of gay liberation, some activists demanded the right to marry. This may surprise some, who imagine that gay liberationists were united in denouncing marriage as a discredited patriarchal institution.  But the messy complexity as well as the fervent politicization of the gay liberation years is part of what made them so generative and influential. (89)

Bland and Malvin’s efforts were, needless to say, unsuccessful. Thirty seven years later, the good folks at GLAD won Connecticut same-sex couples the right to marry in Kerrigan and Mock v. Connecticut Department of Health.

Here’s another item that suggests how, for at least some young people of the gay liberation era, “marriage” could be just as much about personal self-definition as politicized demands for rights, getting at some of that “messy complexity”:

News photograph: "Couple Wears Matching Wedding Rings," Hartford Times, September 27, 1970
Hartford Times, September 27, 1970

The hands pictured belonged to Leonard Simons, a 29-year-old trucking company clerk, and Richard Stankiewicz, a 24-year-old machinist, who had been living together in Plainville for nine months. The couple seemed to consider themselves activists—they “wore purple buttons with a peace symbol and the words, ‘Homosexuals for Peace.'” They also reported that they were “good Christians.” Stankiewicz told the reporter, “I just happen to prefer men over women.”

(Rather amusing background for the picture: it accompanied a report on a picnic that was thrown by Kalos-GLF in a Hartford public park in 1970 and was opposed by a neighborhood figure named Bert “Big Boy” Carilli, a beer salesman and former boxer. Carilli collected 400 signatures from area residents in an unsuccessful effort to have the picnic canceled. Then he attended the event, where he provided grilling utensils, was dubbed “Teddy Bear” by the gay attendees, and simultaneously preached “tolerance” and called gays and lesbians “sick people.”)

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